With the effects of global warming and climate change now becoming more and more evident, people worldwide have become acutely aware of the intimate relationship between the person and his or her natural environment.
But ordinary Papua New Guineans are struggling to maintain that balance in their own small way as large corporations supported by the government exploit resources at the expense of the people and their environment. For years, both local and international groups have campaigned against environmental damage with relative success. In Papua New Guinea, several community based groups continue to argue that the “environment” and conservation shouldn’t be seen from the western context.
|We belong to the land. The land doesn’t belong to us.|
Michael Kasuk – a community leader from the Upper Ramu river in the Madang province – says environmental damage caused in the name of large scale development and higher tax revenues has serious consequences for the Ramu people. To them it means cultural genocide and, literally, the death of future generations.
“The government and companies must recognize this fact,” he says. “This is not a fight against new development. It is about our environment: Our land, our bush and our river. Because our very lives are connected to the land, the bush and the river.”
Like many other traditional communities in Papua New Guinea, people of the Ramu have a well developed calendar of food gathering and ceremonies based on seasons and river patterns. But the Ramu – with its tributaries in the highlands of Papua New Guinea – is being slowly killed by large scale development up river. Sediments from mining in Kainantu in the Eastern Highlands eventually end up in the Ramu. Oil palm development near the Madang-Morobe provincial border is also becoming a major concern. The Ramu also faces a more immediate threat from two new mines: one operated by Canadian Company – Marengo and the other by the Chinese owned MCC. Soil erosion partially caused by construction work at the Chinese owned Ramu Nickel Mine is also finding its way into a river used by more than 200 thousand people.
However, very little has been said about the long term effects of large scale industries in the upper reaches of the Ramu. Few people who live along the river realize that there are several new developments scattered along the Ramu’s tributaries which stand to affect their lives.
“ The initial signs of sedimentation are evident,” says Steven Malai, an elementary school teacher in Sepu village in Ramu. “And we expect more damage to happen.
“There hasn’t been any proper awareness on the negative effects of mining upstream. When company officials came, their focus was on how much money the government was going to make and they said: “
you won’t be harmed.”